Velomaby: Final Goodbyes

Saying goodbye was the hardest thing.  I was not ready to leave but I had to.  “Tsy hitatao.”  I got to say bye to people but it was rushed.  They knew it was coming, and it went much better than I expected.  I still just wasn’t ready, mbola tamana.  People expressed sadness to see me go and I felt the same.  We talked about how we would miss each other.  It wouldn’t be the same.  I knew the relationships I had at that moment would never be like they were in that moment again.
I think they best way to describe saying goodbye is through the stories of the following people.  We had built relationships, routines, understandings, trust, and traditions together.  We knew how to handle each other.  We knew the other’s ways, attitudes, beliefs, and ways of expressing those as well, which vary greatly by country, and we did not understand much of this about each other at the beginning.  I had spent two independence days eating chicken with these people.  I knew their children, exes, and parents.  We were a family.

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My neighbors and students came to say bye, help clean up, take a souveneir.
Pictured above left: Bitska, Emma, Eliza, Nicole
Right: le vazaha, Bitska again, Maman’ny Patricia holding Adrienne, her son
Their stories:
Emma and Eliza, two of my favorite girls, who were members of my Youth and Girls Clubs, and my favorite neighbor, Nicole, look at my photo album.  Looking at my pictures was a favorite past time with new friends, and sometimes old, when the kids wanted to re-look at pictures.
Bitska (left), my 13-year-old neighbor would carry his 1-year-old little brother, Adrienne, to my house at dusk with their sister, Patricia, 6, and we’d hang out while their mom was finishing cooking their dinner. Sometimes I was preparing my food, just ate, or even still eating. Usually they would just keep me company as I shredded carrots.
As you can see from the second picture, on the right, my house turned into a madhouse with people coming from all over to say bye and hopefully collect a voandalana, or souveneire, too. Some people like my Doctor brought me gifts, too. It was very emotional and I miss them everyday.
Nicole, who I have mentioned since my first blog at site, inherited my kitchen utensils, some of my most precious belongings. That’s the inside of my kitchen as I left.
My GLOW campers came over to help me clean and pack. Emma here was going to be the new Youth Club President, I had hoped. She was almost 18 and super confident, and a great peer educator. So proud of the growth I saw in her.
Adrienne, who lived across the street, was 3 months old when I arrived.  He was born on Valentine’s Day. Here he is 1 and a half. I watched him grow up before my eyes.  I weighed him at baby weighings and watched him eat more rice than I’ve ever seen a not even two-year-old eat!!  He was one of the babies’ health I monitored closely over the two years because we lived in such close proximity to reach other.

Madame Charlene (left) and Kelly, her grand daughter (right). I had to visit Madame Charlene before I left. She worked at the hospital, sometimes we filled out immunization cards together. She was a saint and helped so much in my work and understanding people. I love her.
Nicole always fed me lunch when I went over to her house after working at the hospital. She was also the head AC, or Community Health Worker who distributed medicine to all 26 CHWs in collaboration with PSI. She was my really good friend – we’d talk about life as we ate and napped in her house.
Emma, one of my four GLOW Campers, came to hang out with me and say goodbye.
Madame Charlene, the hospital’s assistant, Rasazy, the midwife, and a community health worker from a village 18 kilometers from the town, traveled on a dug out wooden canoe. He was super gentle, soft spoken and serious.
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Maro Antoine, who I called mar’omby because he had a big cow and his wife. Corn harvest season was back! My neighbors’ yards were covered in corn when I went to say bye. They harvest corn and sold for 15 cents a cup. It was a lot of work, I learned, and it made your hands hurt. I spent my last day helping shuck corn with everyone as we sat around after lunch.
IMG_7327The day I was leaving, my friend, Mena, had her baby! Her Mom, Maman’ny Mena became a good friend of mine when she lived across the street from me, and I fetched water at their compound’s well.  She was loud and boisterous and quickly a favorite among my Peace Corps friends.  She would always tell me, “Nahita Eddy zaho.”  “I saw Eddy!”, who was one of my peace corps neighbors.  She was so friendly and fun to talk up and she’d let me try her food.  She moved houses to live by the taxi bus station to make money and sell fried bread, but we continued to see each other and say hi.  I would pass her going out of town on my bike as I avoided the cows and camions to visit Julia.

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These girls, Tina who’s 8 (left) and Kila who’s 6 (right), would always come over to my house to draw and hang out.  Their moms sold food at the taxi brousse station, so they were always passing my house walking from their house on their way there.
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Corn shucking tapotsihy lunchtime special.
Claudio with a big knife, as all my American friends pointed out. Mama helping me learn to shuck corn.
Mama and me selfie.
My boys with their corn. Ages 5, 8, 6, (don’t know the girl), 1.5 years.
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Claudio with his two moms 😛
Mofo bal-y!
I would drink coffee with the guy at 5 am everyday for my first couple months.  We were Mama Boozy’s only two clients that early.
Maman’ny Cidja with her grandchildren, being just the adorable, naturally gracious woman she is.  Her legs have become a chair for two little girls!  Sonia, 6, and Sidonie, 1.8 years.  Maman’ny Cidja is like the best woman ever.  She took care of me.  She kept me alive.  She nurtured me and was gentle with me.  She is so humble.  She is the best woman ever.
This adorable little lady grew up before my eyes, too.  She was in my original girls’ group that met on Saturday mornings and she is one of the stars of the Waka Waka VIH SIDA song and dance performances!  She was 8 when we started and is now 10.  I wanted to guide her through her adolescence.  I couldn’t believe how much of a difference those two years could make.  She was no longer a child and she became so mature.  It was beautiful!
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Rogelio is my favorite baby in the world.  He is so cute and he knows me, and my name!  I also watched him grow up completely from 3 weeks to 1 year 8 months or something!  Amazing.  I was there when he was learning to walk, dance, bat his eyes, talk, everything!
My girl who worked at the best hotely in town.  She would sit with me and chat me up if I was eating alone.  She knew what I liked and was fun to joke around with.
Coconuts! The best part of my site, food-wise!
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My favorite bazary market seller. She was the only one who would negotiate with me on prices and give me kadeus. She sold green beans, carrots, onions, garlic and tomatoes. Once she learned I made green fried tomatoes, she’s always save them for me and give them to me for free. She was so sweet.
Literally my journey to from Madagascar:
We started in DC and flew to Dakar Senegal on our way there, and then I lived in Vatomandry region for  two years.  On my way home, I flew through Paris and stayed there for a week of fun immersion back into the “real world” aka andafy.


My COS Story

This is long overdue.  The fast paced life has consumed me.
Last time I posted was in December about my Dad’s trip. December was busy and in January, I COS’d. Let me take a step back and give you a glimpse at my last times in country, including my last vacation, days at site, as a PCV and all of the velomas, goodbyes.

New Year’s trip with Harvard
I started the new year off right with a vacation.  For New Year’s, my friend and roommate from AmeriCorps, Harvard visited me.
Traveling bougie I met Farah Jones!!
We flew to Toliara and I hung out with Farah Jones’ baby at the airport! #smallworld #famousinger

Beautiful beach in Anakao where we spent New Year’s

IMG_7166Typical travel situation: Taxi brousse on the way to Isalo. I held an 8-month-old for over an hour. IMG_7185Beautiful piscine naturelle we swam in while hiking in Isalo.

LUNCH after hiking Isalo National Parc
Cold glass of Tamarind juice on left and a hot cup of rice water, or ranampango on right.
Lasary karoty, shredded carrots in vinegar.IMG_7218Rav’toto and rice. Ground cassava leaves are a popular traditional dish
I definitely didn’t like this dish when I first got to country, but now I love it.
Beautiful sunset in Isalo. The way it was sprawling reminded me of Tucson, AZ
Mofo sira – my favorite “bread” in my second year. Salty/oily rice flour bread you eat with coffee.
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Beautiful rice paddy terraces driving from Isalo through the South to the highlands.
We drove from 10:30 am, when we finally rented a 4×4 in Isalo because we were sick of haggling,
(and our brousse didn’t show up), to 11 pm at night when we arrived in Anstirabe.
We covered 1,000 kilometers or 23 hours by car in three days.
Antsirabe was really cute. A smaller, manageable town. It was nice to walk places.

Once Harvard left, I went back and did my site goodbyes.
Maman’ny Cidja, my favorite mpanotra/mpanao massage on her steps.
She is Rogelio, my favorite baby’s grandma.
Claudio, what a smile
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The whole crew: youth club girls and other baby friends
Judi, Dinah, and Coco, my favorite mpanentanas, co-workers.
This lady I do not know but she asked to take a picture.
My favorite high school students came to say bye! They made it to premiere and I hope they make it to
Terminal, the last year of high school!
This was one of my favorite babies. Her Mom introduced her to me as Princess Diana. She was a well-behaved,
adorable baby. Her Mom could leave her with me and go to the market.
Marolahy and Sonya playing with play-doh for the first time.
Mama Boozy and Tantine Eugenie. They were constants in my life for two years.
A nice lady who sold street food and would always give me free tastes and talk me up for an hour
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My garden achievements – my super tall moringa tree and huge watermelon,
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and basil up to our waists (behind us). Friends coming to say bye and get voandalanas.
Reading Eugelie Dr. Seuss one last time

More pictures of my favorite people at site and life as an RPCV in my next post!

Rogelio, my favorite baby

In the video, for background, he saw a picture of us, so I’m asking him who was in it. “Zovy anaty sary?”

I get him to say, “Alye” or his version of my name! He is the cutest little stinker. His family was one of my favorites my second year of service.  They provided everything from hot sauce to a plate of food to massage(!), sewing skills to friendship to my life.

Rogelio was born April in early May of 2013, when I arrived at site, so I knew him from his first month, and then entire life since then. He grew to be so funny and loved to chase ducks with a stick like he was herding them, or walk with his Dad to bring the pig home at night like a little man.

They told him when he was one year old to bat his eyes at me, and he learned how. It was great. That’s when he became my favorite baby. Around May 2014.

This video was taken January 14th of 2015.  He will be two years in May. Crazy how time flies.  When I go back, he’ll be grown up!

Guest blog: Dad sees my site

My trip to Madagascar


Dad getting acquainted with the kids

I am so fortunate to be able to spend a couple of weeks visiting my daughter in Madagascar. Her Peace Corps work in Ilaka has made me so proud over these last 20 months, but nothing like seeing it up close. The love and joy that I experienced firsthand from the people in her community was truly awesome and brought a tear to my eyes on more than one occasion. Alle’s laugh and her zest for life are clearly contagious, judging by the greetings we received from so many people we met on the street, in the market and at the local commune.

The island is truly magical with its incredible diversity, but the young children and the older folks I met clearly stole the show. The children flock to Alle and they seem to soak up every moment wanting to learn from her. They have a thirst for knowledge and appreciate her caring for them and helping them find a more sustainable path forward in their lives.

The local doctor and elders in the community were among a score of people who commented to me how Alle has been made a part of Ilaka and has already made a difference.

They talked often about her language skills and that she was now accepted as a native. We could not walk two or three paces anywhere in town without someone saying hello or wanting to chat and meet her ‘papa’.

So much more work needs to be done in Ilaka and across the island to provide more opportunities for the wonderful people of Madagascar, but I do know that Alle and numerous other dedicated Peace Corps volunteers are helping them chart a path forward.

Thanks, Dad, for such sweet words!

Dad’s Visit; “Once in a lifetime trip”

First dinner at Sakamanga in Tana

Feon’ny Ala Hotel
Could hear lemur calls from our beds at 4 am. Pretty neat.
[We went on a night hike & luckily brought along a nice girl with a nice camera. Pictures to come.]
Hike in National Park
What type of snake is this again? Oh, a Boa…
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Our guide showing my Dad a lemur on Right. Neck breaking work, really. #lemurlooking

In the midst of it all – the sweat, bugs, mud, plants #bonding
Beautiful colored gecko
Heavenly peaceful Vakona Lodge

Lemur Island
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Dad looks a little uncomfortable.
Christmas Card quality, right?

118Showing off/ “Be zesta” anarany ity gidro ity.
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I screamed so much when the lemurs jumped on my head. It was so wild and a great introduction to Madagascar.
126Cutest little lemur. #brownlemur

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End of lemurs on our heads.
Traveled 3 more hours South East to Vatomandry, where we slept for the night.
Ate delicious coconut shrimp and lobster @ my favorite, Casadoro Hotel! #lovemysite


My Site
155 Ilaka <-Dad’s bungalow in Ilaka
My house, my kids, Patricia & Claudio
167165Road outside my house. I call it a freeway.
My Dad said it was not quite that. #AmbanivoloMentality
We had lunch at my Doctor’s house
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Youth Club Meeting
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After practicing our English, Dad taught them to throw a baseball
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Ft. Dauphin – Talinjoo Hotel
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Gorgeous views plus an infinity pool. #whatelsedoyouneed

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Nampaona Reserve
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Baby lemur season! #besthingever
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Vanilla bean (L). Mr. Croc
Our great Guide, Alfonso, & lakana paddler
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Dancing lemur. Ringtail lemur.

Girls Leading Our World Camp

Four PCVs came together to apply for a grant to bring 5 girls to Tana for a week of Girls Empowerment. Here’s a picture diary. I’m so impressed the by change I saw in my girls in one short week. They’re now becoming leaders in town of their peers and helping form a new Youth Club!
Sunday, October 12
Left Ilaka on a taxi brousse
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Sandra, Patricia, Emma, Elizah, Lydia

 Monday, October 13th
Lemurs at Andasibe National ParkGLOW fb
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After hiking in the forest and looking at Indri lemurs, we broussed to Tana.
We made it to Rovon’ny Tovovavy! Catholic church’s center we rented out

 Tuesday, October 14th
Our first guests: an NGO, Population Services International (PSI), Peer Educators
They taught about HIV/AIDs, STIs and Safe Sex in a fun, participatory way.

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We played a game where statements were presented, and the girls ran to the side of the room, where it said, either, “I agree,” or “I disagree.” For example, “HIV/AIDs is present in Madagascar.”

 Tuesday evening we did Zumba!
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I co-led the camp with Samira, Monica and Danielle (below).
A Doctor from the Ministry of Health taught the girls about dental hygiene.
To provide comic relief, PCVs and Campers performed skits related to “sipas.”
My girl, Emma, (L) played the mom of a “maditra” mpianatra who
got pregnant while she was still in school.
They were really good! They memorized all their lines.

Wednesday evening we exposed our girls to Yoga
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We posed as yoga teachers for a day

Thursday IMG_0487Went to an indoor soccer stadium, which the girls loved!

Thursday afternoon we drew caricatures of how “we view ourselves” with the help of our guest teacher, Olivia, an Education PCV. IMG_0502melaughing for blog
Trying to explain a really intangible idea about self-esteem, self-perception
Finished caricatures!
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Our girls got new toothbrushes and toothpaste #healthywomen

What is “Enough”?

Feeling pressure
To be good enough
to save the world
the children
I want to heal all
Make all happy
but I can’t
I’m in denial
White guilt
I want to make it all better
To fix their lives
But I can’t
I want to do so much,
to change my entire community
To improve their quality of life
but I can’t
I want to clean the water,
build new latrines
Teach them to wash their hands
but I can only do so much
I want to make the babies fat
the mothers, too
I want to feed them yummy food
and make them mazoto
I do what I can
I want to give
the children the world
My love
Everything I can
and I do.

Peace Corps is all about learning to do what YOU CAN. Sometimes I feel like it’s not enough – my work, my efforts, my impact. I am passionate, I care, I want to do everything in (and out) of my reach. I want to feel like my coming this far around the world for TWO whole years of my life (maery) was WORTH it. I want to feel I didn’t just do this for me. Like someone else is benefitting. I want to feel like there is a purpose to what I’m doing, and it matters. I want to feel like it’s okay that I took this risk to join Peace Corps, and like I know why. I want to feel like there is meaning to my days. I want to know what I’m doing is right. I hope my decision to fall off the grid for two years was a good idea, and worthwhile. Like I can leave here feeling successful, mission accomplished.

A couple months ago, I felt like there was no way that with just one year left, I’d be able to do anything worthy. Nothing for me to say, “I DID that.” I changed blank. I helped so and so. I improved this. It made me sad. I felt like I should just go home and not suffer so much here, if I was just doing it for my own self-revelations. I walked down the street to the market, and every child I saw, I looked at with sad eyes, like, “I know, you’re malnourished, and I’m fat, and that’s not right.” Then I thought, “But you’re cute as heck.”

I had a sense of my privilege not being right.  I grabbed every baby in sight that would go to me, and hugged them as long as I could, hoping to transfer some love to them. I wanted to feel connection, to someone, something.

Every time a person came to my house, I’d give them my shoes, a shirt, a skirt I didn’t wear…if nothing else, a banana, cause I had, and they didn’t, and I could [spare].

I had headaches from feeling like I was performing 24/7 for people while out during the day. I was constantly putting on comedy acts, trying to share any sliver of happiness with them that I could. I pushed myself to exhaustion. And misery. I felt not good enough. A terrible feeling when you feel like you’re doing everything you can, and it’s STILL not good enough.

I wish I could point to one day when the sun finally rose over the mountains, and I woke up, and smelled the coffee, and everything changed. Slowly, though, I’ve learned to not be so hard on myself. I am working on setting myself up for success with realistic expectations. This also includes reminding myself where the people I’m working with are coming from, and being compassionate with them. Having realistic expectations of them enables me to be less frustrated and more patient with them. I haven’t completely accepted how potentially small the change I make in my community will be, but I am opening up to the idea of seeing my service actually as successful. While inside I feel like my service is a series of fails, resulting from me not trying hard enough, and being “good enough,” I have begun accepting the idea that I’ve done everything I can, and that IS enough.

ENOUGH is an interesting idea. What is it?

What’s it like?

To have lived abroad for 19 months now, and know I won’t see home until mid-way through next year?

I’ve lost some perspective. I’ve been broken down. I’ve grown immune to swiping bat poop off my toiletries. To 11-year-olds suggesting work out plans to me to decrease my leg fat. I’m still scared by swerving through cows and camions (tractor trailers) on my afternoon bike rides.

I’ve forgotten what home’s like. At the same time, I think about it all the time. I want to enjoy the convenience and easiness of life there. This isn’t the worst place in the world, my site, but neither is the US. In the past, when I lived abroad, I painted pictures of evil, imperialist America. Now, I know, it’s just different.

I’m less scared by bugs crawling around at night. I’m pretty sure I hear a rat right now, as I write, but what am I going to do about it? And what’s it really going to do to me? Maybe bite a whole in one of my clothes. Oh well. I have too many anyways.

What’s it like? To live in a small village for 17 months, with no other “vazaha,” or Americans?

You forget what normal is. Or what used to be your norm. Perspective on life shifts. I point at other foreigners now, as they whiz by in their “automobiles,” shocked to see them…just like people here were, and sometimes still are, to see me.

Normal to me is having no lights. Watching TV once a week on my Surface tablet. Hearing weird noises at night, and hoping they’re not going to hit me…whatever bug/biby it is.

Playing with five-year-olds all day, cause they’re who has free time to hang out with me. Normal is not normal. It does not exist. It is just that – my existence.

Whatever happens, happens. I do not set unrealistic expectations as much as I used to. I just hope I can make it through another day. Say “good enough.” That bowl isn’t as clean as I would like, but it’s clean enough.

I’ve learned to let go. I’m learning to not be as hard on myself, and forgive. Humanness, understanding, we all have weaknesses, and having patience when they come to light, is what I’ve learned so far.

We have the power. I didn’t feel that way in the US, but I see here I have the time to distribute. It’s up to us to decide how we spend our energy. Whether it be worrying about making the bus, or knowing, everything will work out how it’s supposed to.

Whether in the US, or Madagascar, there are good and bad people. I have good and bad days in both places.

While I have way less here, material-wise, than I ever had in DC, I always feel I have enough, as opposed to in the US, where I never did. I always had to buy one more dress, another $5 coffee to keep going.

I hope my friends working stateside see how you don’t have to drop everything and travel, like I did, to live an adventurous life. Spend your weekends in the park. Swim in rivers and go places you’ve never gone. You won’t be able to escape your demons by leaving the US, or ignoring them, either. But you will be able to come to terms with them, wherever you are, if you decide to face them.

(I love to spill advice, but I’m learning how much I have to gain by listening more. I hope I don’t sound too preachy.)

Someone wise recently advised me, “You don’t have to go from 0 to 10. If you look in the mirror, and think, “I’m so fat,” don’t turn that around and say, “I’m skinny like a supermodel.” Be realistic about it. Try; “I’m not as skinny as a model, but I do have nice legs.”

So what’s it really like?

It’s hard as hell. I thought I was gonna die, a million times. Mostly from the cows on bike rides and bats on my mosquito net at night. Walking 7K, or dancing in 100 degrees, with a belly full of rice.

Peace Corps is a million times harder than I ever imagined. I thought because I’ve “done it before” – studying, volunteering abroad, I knew what I was in for. Actually it’s like everything I’ve ever done, but on steroids.  It’s so hard. You miss home. You miss your old life. Comfort, convenience. Not sticking out. Being around people like you. Living in a place that has things to do. It sucks, a lot…sometimes. But other times, it’s so amazing, you want to stay forever.

Peace Corps is not a romantic fantasy. A lot of days, or moments, I hate it. For pushing me so hard. To grow. Sometimes I’m lazy and don’t want to work on my personal development. But PC doesn’t give you a choice. You’re in the hot seat 24/7, and whether you like it or not, your morals and strength are being tested.

Oh btw the “rat” or “bat” I heard, was just a damn flying cockroach! Nothing to be afraid of.

A lot of days, I question myself. I doubt my success in my work here. Convince myself I should just go home. It’d be so much easier. But then what? I will have run away, once again. I have to write, and coach myself, to find my inner strength, when I feel my worst. Even scarier; ask for help. Admitting vulnerability, and sharing my weaknesses with someone else, is one of the toughest things to do for me. It’s my pride, ego.

While you may think living in a place with fresh coconuts is a dream come true, I fantasize about things at home. It seems like heaven – a fluffy, white, soft, cushy, cake walk. That’s not realistic, but for a minute, if I close my eyes, that’s what the US conjures up for me. Comfort, easy, yummy.

Here though? One minute I’m bored, then I’m overwhelmed with activity. I’m lonely, then exhausted from interacting. Then I’m sick of sitting around my house all day. Then I haven’t been home all day, and need “me” time.

It’s not that MUCH different from the US, huh? I’m still me, just with palm trees, Malagasy language and bowls of rice. A little tanner, a little blonder, undoubtedly stronger. Just instead of browsing facebook when I’m bored, I color, or play with kids. But if my smartphone’s charged, I just MAY check out facebook! haha

That’s what it’s like. Not SO foreign afterall.